On June 28th Metro announced that Gruen Associates along with Grimshaw Architects would be leading the master planning efforts around Los Angeles’ Union Station over the next two years. TPR spoke with Jenna Hornstock, Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning to discuss the plan’s background, the site, the planning team’s qualifications, and how the process will unfold from here as Metro aims to foster mobility while engaging with its immediate neighbors.
“Gruen will be incredibly strong [master plan] project managers. They know master planning, they get it, and they know Metro.” -Jenna Hornstock
The Metro Board has voted to approve staff’s recommendation of a Master Plan team for Union Station. Could you elaborate?
Jenna Hornstock: The board approved our recommendation that we enter into a contract with Gruen Associates. They are working in association with Grimshaw Architects, but we will technically enter into a contract with Gruen to take on the master plan project. Within that contract there is a set team; so, we now know who is the team for this significant work.
Clarify what this Union Station master planning team is being asked to do.
The contract itself will have a 22-page scope of work, which would delight many of your newsletter readers. To boil it down, the three main tasks for the master plan start with data collection analysis. What’s going on? What do our stakeholders have to say? What are we planning for? What space do we have? What are the major issues? Then we develop the program. The end of task one is a program of what we’re going to try and fit on this property.
The second task is to develop draft alternatives. What are the different ways we can fit this program on the property? And in doing so, what choices are we making? If you want a little more of this, you have to give a little more of that.
The third task is the final preferred plan. We’ve got these alternatives, and we’re going to narrow it down. Maybe it’s one of them; maybe it’s pieces of some. What’s in that final preferred plan will have a series of implementation memos. Those will talk about entitlements, the Alameda District Specific Plan, governance structures, financing mechanisms, and phasing. Reconstruction on the property will take place as we operate.
Just to clarify for our readers, the selection process for Union Station’s Master Plan involved choosing from six team finalists. Each, as part of their submittals of qualifications, had provided an inspiring drawing of a possible master planned Union Station, but those drawings were to have nothing to do with what the ultimate master plan will emerge to be.
No, those requested drawings were really just high concepts to start us on the right path; they were meant to inspire wild imagination and provide iconic vision for this station. We feel like our process set an exciting tone for the upcoming planning process – but those drawings were not
considered when selecting our master plan team.
Now that the board has made a selection of a team, elaborate on the strengths of the Gruen and Grimshaw firms.
I’d just like to start by saying how humbling the whole process was—getting to meet, hear from, and talk to world-class teams across the board. We were humbled and lucky to have the choice. Gruen will be incredibly strong project managers. They know master planning- the nuts and bolts master planning. They get it, and they know Metro.
They are partnered with Grimshaw, an award winning design and architecture firm with a specialty focus on multimodal regional transportation hubs.Their experience in every one of their projects demonstrates an ability to create connectivity. We’re looking to foster vibrancy in the areas around Union Station. We know that’s a priority for Metro, for the city, and for the communities around us. We saw their design vision and their focus on how they would apply that feeling to this very important aspect of our station.
The time frame for this mater planning process is twenty-four months.
Let’s step back from the selection of Metro’s Master Plan team. Please elaborate on Union Station’s master plan footprint and on the opportunities and challenges that Gruen and Grimshaw must now contend with over the next two years.
Union Station was built in 1939 to serve the western railroads: the Southern Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Santa Fe. When it was built it was serving about 6000 boardings per day. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
When I talk about the property today, it’s more than just a station. It’s a 40-acre site that we’re looking at, including the historic passenger terminal. Metro purchased the property for $75 million in April of 2011 from Catellus, the private development arm of the Santa Fe Pacific Corporation.
Metro’s building is the 26-story, 628,000 square foot property next to the east portal and the passenger bus plaza. Below those properties is a 4500-car parking garage. That parking garage was built to hold a lot of development, and that’s never fully used.
We’ve got 12 heavy rail tracks, six platforms, serving Amtrak and Metro commuter rail. We’ve got Metro’s Red and Purple subway lines and then the gold line light rail at the station. In front of the station we’ve got 223 surface parking spaces and a five bay bus plaza serving Amtrak.
Then there are the Mosaic Apartments, 270 units that was previously developed that we do not own. First Five LA is a 50,000 square foot, 3-story office building. Then also on the site is the MWD headquarters, which is a 10-story, 530,000 square foot property. Those are not part of the master plan, although obviously they are going to be stakeholders. They bring transit users to the property; they bring bodies through the property. So they will be obviously part of the discussion, but those are not part of the master plan.
What’s going on currently at this property? We’ve got over 60,000 boardings per day between our rail lines and more. We run 19 bus lines out of this property. This includes other municipal bus operators, shuttle services for employers, and the Flyaway to LAX, which has about 100 trips per day. So that right now is about 60,000 boardings per day. It started up around 6000 a day, and now it’s 60,000 per day. At the end of 2035 with our Measure R build-up we’re looking at 100,000 boardings per day. Then with high-speed rail we’re looking at 130,000. So 60,000 today will be about 130,000 with high-speed rail.
And the property itself is not changing. The Alameda District Specific Plan was adopted in 1996 by the City of Los Angeles. The plan provides 11 million square feet of entitlements, with 7 million were allocated just to the Union Station property. About one million have been developed. So we’re looking at 6 million square feet of entitlements on the property already approved. On top of that the entitlements are really flexible. The plan contemplates entertainment, commercial, retail, and even a sports arena. It can pretty much go anywhere on the site that works.
The plan also allows for a transfer of floor area between the properties, and all these entitlements were sealed in through the development agreement between Catellus and Metro. So we’ve got a development agreement with the City of Los Angeles that is valid through April of 2022. It seals in major development of entitlements on the property.
Catellus was a private, for-profit, developer. If you look at their previous site plans, what drove the planning work was profit. You could build a lot if you wanted to go that route. However we’ve got some goals slightly different from those of a for-profit developer. We want to accommodate current and future transit needs. We are Metro, and transit is going to be there as our primary focus. This is the center of our transportation universe. Everything that we can show you with the build out of our transit system, it comes through Union Station, and we acknowledge how important that is.
We also know that Union Station is meant to be an iconic place of extraordinary design for Los Angeles, for the downtown area, and for people coming in to visit. We want to protect and enhance our historic property. We want to improve access and connectivity to the downtown area and the thriving cultural communities around the station, including Little Tokyo, Chinatown, El Pueblo and Boyle Heights and to the efforts to revitalize the LA River. We want to maximize the value of our investment. We can develop on the property, and we will use the revenues from joint development opportunities to support investment in our property and our transit system. And we want to incorporate sustainability into our development.
Now to the master plan. We completed the procurement process, with approval of a recommended consultant team at the June 28th Board meeting. For the procurement process, we did an RFIQ—request for information and qualifications—last July. We got 22 amazing responses from world class, award winning, architect teams partnered with the best transportation planners there are. It was humbling to see who was interested in this property. It was tough, but from those 22 we narrowed it to six firms that received our request for proposals, and that was approved by our board in December 2011. The RFP went out on December 21, we got the six responses in March.
Let me touch on the vision board requirement of the RFP. There was confusion and people weren’t sure what the boards were about. We just talked about a lot of entitlements on the property, the constraints of a historic building, and how many people are moving through the various uses on the site. Those factors are going to drive this master plan, so we wanted to start the process thinking about the vision of what this property is and what it means as a transit-oriented development at the center of our transit system and as a critical connector to downtown Los Angeles. From a place of vision we can bring in the reality of the constraints. The vision boards are not what we expect the station to look like, but an exercise in imagination. We’re ready to get going this summer, and it will be a two-year process to develop a master plan.
I think an exciting part of our scope of work for this master plan is the implementation memos that we’re asking for as part of the preferred plan. We’re already thinking, how are we going to get this done? So we’re going to have a series of technical memos that are going to talk about the entitlements, CEQA, financing options, and governance strategies. Looking at stations that have been developed across the country, most of those were done through some kind of non-profit entity or joint-powers authority, rather than the municipal body itself. I don’t know how it will be for us, but we’re going to look at that. Security issues are a feature, definitely an issue, and we want to hit on that.
We’ll look at phasing. I was in Boston for a while during the Big Dig. I saw what its like when you’re trying to do a major project while that entity or that place is still breathing. My friend called it open-heart surgery on the city while its still living, and that’s how it’s going to be at Union Station. We’re going to have a growing number of people going through the station while we’re going to take on major infrastructure and development projects. The phasing is going to be critical. We’re going to have access and circulation policies and designed guidelines as well. All that will be part of our final preferred plan.
The two overarching tasks throughout the process will be our public outreach and general project management. I’ll talk a little bit about stakeholder involvement. There is a public outreach firm that is part of our selected team that will be putting together the full plan, but we do know that they will have our internal stakeholders, our transit users will be engaged throughout the process. We have a technical advisor committee that was directed by our board. Those members include the High-speed Rail Authority, Metrolink, Amtrak, Department of City Planning, LA County’s Regional Planning, and Caltrans. So we already have a technical working group, and I think it’s critical that the folks sitting in that room are going to make sure that we always have access to the folks working at other organizations, to have the data, and get the feedback as we make decisions. Those will have quarterly meetings.
In terms of community outreach we’ve already talked about starting off with some small group meetings, looking at stakeholders from the communities around the property to identify their priorities, issues and concerns. We’ll be forming a community advisory committee for the master planning process, and we’ll have community workshops. There will be a lot of outreach and feedback opportunities throughout the process. Again, Once we get started with our firm there’s going to be an extensive plan developed within the first month. I know generally what we’re talking about now in the process, but once we get started we’ll have a more definitive plan.
I want to touch on one last piece on stakeholder involvement. I get asked a lot, “What are you going to do about the LA River? What about Park 101?” All of those things, the connectivity of the area around us, are critical drivers of this master plan. We at Metro acknowledge that. At the same time we just own this property, and we are transit authority. We are going to focus our master plan on the property we own, but we’ll do that knowing who the partners are working in the surrounding area. If there are opportunities to partner, I think that we’ll look at that as we’re going into implementation. As an acknowledgement of the connectivity and the planning around us, we sponsored in part with the LA Department of City Planning an Urban Land Institute Advisory Services Panel. This took place last December, and many of you were probably involved. So the study area was the area all around Union Station: Little Tokyo, Chinatown, the Civic Center, the central industrial area, the LA River. The question that was asked to ULI was, given that this master plan process was about to start, what should the City of Los Angeles be doing to think about planning and infrastructure improvements around the station.
On our master plan website there’s a presentation that was made. Any moment we should have the final plan up on our website. So we are thinking in a connected way about this, but I would also like to make it clear that our master plan is looking at the property itself.